Documented

Documented is a new film by Jose Antonio Vargas

The film had its world premier at the AFI Docs Festival last night to a sold out crowd at the National Portrait Gallery.

It chronicles the struggles and efforts of the Pulitzer Prize-winning former journalist, both before and after he outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in the New York Times Magazine. “Documented” chronicles his decision to transform his life. At some point, he could no longer keep his secret. He had become a successful journalist covering political campaigns and appearing on television. He had all the trappings of the American success story, but he lacked permission to be in the United States. He had been brought to the U.S. as a child and had no way to obtain a valid immigration status. And after seeing and speaking with thousands of immigrants in the same situation, he decided to “let the world in” to his secret and decided to become an immigration reform activist/provocateur.

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Mr. Vargas has made a compelling film that brings into focus what it really means to be an American. It is not a piece of paper, a birth certificate, a passport, or the luck of being born here. It is a love of country, which Mr. Vargas has in abundance. It is also about hard work and struggle. My Vargas’ grandparents were U.S. citizens and brought him to the USA when he was 12. He became an outstanding student and with the help of dozens of friends, mentors, and surrogate parents, he achieved the American dream. However, the cost of this dream were high, and not being able to be open about his status exacted a toll on his psyche. Seeing other young immigrants struggling to keep their families together and lobby Congress to pass the Dream Act., made him realize that he could use his talents as a writer to help America to peel back the layers and understand the complicated issue of immigration reform. The complexity of the topic has been lost in the political bickering and punditry that characterizes our political system and our society. Sound-bites are particularly inappropriate to understand this complex topic. The film sheds a bright and focused light, like very few other films on this topic. It also highlights his struggle to repair his relationship with his mother, who for twenty years had been trapped half way across the world (in the Philippines) with no way to see her son. The film shows that there are thousands of young adults from all over the world who face the same situation. At one moment towards the end of the film, Mr. Vargas is invited to testify before the Senate. His words are profound and he leaves the Senators with the following question that I think we all must consider thoroughly: “What are you going to do with people like me?” There is not one person who does not recognize how dysfunctional our current immigration system has become. Almost as dysfunctional as our political system. It cannot be acceptable in 21st Century America to have some individuals relegated to the back of the bus, or thrown off the bus after having established such strong roots and allegiances to this country. As Mr. Vargas stated, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, “but not their own facts.” Before making a decision, one should see this film and lean the facts.

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Two Great Films

INCENDIES

Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s acclaimed play, Incendies is a moving tale of discovery. Two siblings travel halfway across the world to piece together the troubled history that their mother almost took with her to her grave. Jeanne and Simon are young adults living in Canada, oblivious to their mother’s turbulent past. The siblings are set in motion after their mother goes into a catatonic state. Jeanne seeks to carry out her mother’s wishes and her brother seeks to distance himself from what he sees as the final manifestation of his mother’s incomprehensibility.

Visiting Lebanon for the first time, Jeanne discovers the horrors her mother spent her whole life trying to protect her from. Flashbacks to her mother’s youth during Lebanon’s civil war are effectively used to make Jeanne’s journey vivid and revealing. She walks through the same dusty streets and country lanes as her mother had decades earlier. Many are almost unchanged. The scenery is stark and beautiful. A language barrier is the least of her difficulties. She is fluent in two languages, but cannot decipher her mother’s history without significant assistance and determination. The hostility Jeanne encounters from the women of her mother’s native village, is striking for it ferocity. After all those many years, hatreds have not subsided. After discovering part of the riddle, she convinces her brother to join her to locate their missing family members. Although the story they piece together is brutal, it is also filled with love and sacrifice that is not easily forgotten.

THE HELP

Set in the South in the early 1960s, the relationship of a young white society woman, Skeeter, and a friend’s maid, Abileen, provide an important window into the world of discrimination that was at the time, not only condoned, but by some, even encouraged. It was a way of life that was enforced by law. What starts as a relationship of necessity, becomes a friendship built upon mutual respect. Having been waited on all her life by her family’s maid, Skeeter needs Abileen to provide her the how-to for her newspaper’s household advice column. As an aspiring writer, Skeeter longs to tell a far more important story, from the perspective of the maids in her town. As Skeeter becomes more intimate with the struggles of the black women who raised generations of white children, she, together with the audience, begin to lose respect for many of her white childhood friends as they attempt to perpetuate the repressive social structure. The maids, who at their time were seen more like posessions than people, are seen through the eyes of Skeeter to be resilient, loving, and beautiful characters. The richness of these characters and the white women surrounding them make this powerful story one that will bring you to laughter and tears. You can’t help but root for Skeeter and Abileen as they traverse the dangerous terrain that must be passed through to arrive at the truth.